faith Mar 06, 2022

If you’ve been an apprentice to Jesus of Nazareth for any amount of time you’ve probably heard Matthew 16:24-26 quoted time and again. It’s one of those everyday Christian verses that we’ve heard so many times that we’ve forgotten what it actually means.

Matthew 16:24-26 says: “Then Jesus told his disciples, “if anyone would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We all should know by now that Jesus died on a cross. However, I don’t know about you, but the magnitude of the crucifixion scene isn’t something that regularly comes to my mind.

However, Jesus knew he would die a gruesome death and everyone in that day and age was familiar with the suffering that was associated with dying on a cross. So this would have been clearly understood and was quite the prerequisite for continued discipleship and apprenticeship.

Jesus was bound, stripped, and mercilessly whipped to the point that his body was reduced to basically a giant open wound. They then pressed sharp and piercing thorns into his head that are believed to potentially have penetrated his skull. He was stripped, his hands and feet were nailed to the cross with iron nails likely the length of railroad tie nails. Blood gushing out, screams of agony.

This is the imagery that people would have potentially visualized to some degree when he told them they must “take up their cross”. It was a call to the selfless commitment that modeled that of Jesus’. It was setting the tone for what it would mean to follow him and to do what he did.

It became clear to followers that people would hate them because of Jesus. That they’d be persecuted for his sake and that when they are, it’s actually a blessing.

This is dying to self.

I’ll admit it’s the absolute hardest part about being a believer and follower of Christ. It’s a daily struggle for me to surrender my own desires, plans, health, belongings, ideas, and more…and if I’m honest, most days I fail at this. But his mercy is new every day, and when I wake up I have another opportunity to employ my heart, will, emotions, habits, etc to help me die to self and surrender all.

I haven’t yet lived through persecution in the sense of the 1st-century form of it, but others across the world are experiencing it on a regular basis. China, Iran, Africa, Iraq, and others are places where horrendous persecution takes place, and as Western Christians, I think we need to be prepared that one day we may have to confront that as well.

The question I’m often pondering is “if my comfortable life goes away, and violence and hate surround me, would I remain to be faithful? How do I ensure that I would be?”

I think that’s where habits come into play. Re-wiring our brain on a daily basis and transforming into the selfless image of the person of Jesus. The more we are renewed and transformed and developed, the more likely we will be to respond in the ways that Jesus (and other saints) did.

And lastly, one of the best habits is that of selfless service. If there is some way we can regularly position ourselves to serve others, then we are naturally wiring in the capacity for sacrifice and self-denial when the opportunity confronts us.

Healthy habits are the keystone in transformation for us men. Our habits place us into the spaces and moments where God meets us, and the Spirit changes us. Think about it…a simple example would be that without the habit of reading scripture, the truth of the word won’t be transforming you, right? We need to habitually be in the word for the word to change us.

If you’d like to join a group of men diving into developing new habits to help live more fully human, and faithfully follow Jesus, check out Project 7. We have a cohort kicking off soon!


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